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25 September 2011 / getrus

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — Rebecca Skloot


I realize it has been a while since my last post, but I have been busy.  Not busy enough to finish a couple of books though.

This weekend I finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  I picked it up because I kept hearing about it and it sounded interesting.  I must tell you I was not let down.  I ended up learning a lot not only about Henrietta, but about celluar and cancer research as well.

Skloot recounts from the first time she heard about the HeLa cells until the end of her research, even giving a short afterword of what the Lacks family mentioned in the story is doing now.  She goes in to detail about Henrietta’s life starting from the time she was born until her death and then continues on with what happened with the cells which were taken from her and what happened to her husband and children.  She alternates chapters between her research and a biography of Henrietta’s life and her family (and also what was happening with the HeLa Cells.)

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who lived in Baltimore and was a patient at Johns Hopkins when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  A sliver of these cells were taken and given to George Gey a researcher who was trying to grow cells out side of a person’s body and failing, but knew that cancer cells lasted longer than most other cells.  Eventually, HeLa the cells which came from Henrietta flourished and began to grow exponentially.  It was these cells which would later help researchers find cures and vaccines for various diseases as well as treatments for cancer.  Henrietta, though, died not too long after this and her family continued to live in squalor.

Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter who was very young when her mother died, ended up to be the who ended up telling Ms. Skloot the most about her mother.  In fact Rebecca helped Deborah learn what had actually happened to her mother and the just how important the cells were to science, because whenever someone would try to talk to the Lacks family about HeLa or Henrietta the family never fully understood what was going on.

This book is probably one of the best I have read in a long time.  Not only does Skloot manage to write a biography she also manages to tie in many science lessons as well.  While this book is technically non-fiction.  It reads like a novel, with some exceptions, and is an amazing story.


**** (four stars)


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